In a recent post, Tom Verenna urged us all to stop using derogatory words to describe people whom we disagree with. He did that hipster thing where his sentence gets broken up into one-word, emphatic, staccato commands:
This. Has. Got. To. Stop.
That. Is. So. Cool.
Wait a second. What, exactly, has got to stop? Oh, here it is. This:
Someone disagrees with an argument made by someone else and they decide this person must be ‘incompetent’ because their argument is different.
If you’re at all familiar with the art and science of political speech and propaganda, you will recognize that sentence as a prime example of what we call “framing.” Before explaining Neil’s complaint against McGrath’s inadequate review, Tom needs to pre-explain or frame the argument.
Tom would have us believe that Neil’s gripe has nothing to do with Dr. McGrath’s longstanding pattern of over-the-top behavior whenever he gets the slightest whiff off Jesus mythicism. Not at all. It’s about “someone” not liking someone else’s “different” argument.
A different drummer
So what is McGrath’s “different” opinion? I’m glad you asked. Let’s list a few and then discuss.
In case after case we see that McGrath disagreed with an argument made by someone else and decided that, because his or her argument is different, that person must have psychological reasons and ulterior motives for being “wrong.” McGrath feels compelled, no doubt as a public service, to explain the personal motivations for mythicist behavior. McGrathian conjecture knows no boundaries. Perhaps they have some pathological predisposition to believe in conspiracy theories, or they have an obsession with parallelomania. Perhaps they are insane.
McGrath, in his review of Thomas Brodie’s memoir, made a passing reference to “the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism,” accusing Brodie of having “complete disregard for other possibilities.” Naturally, he doesn’t indict Brodie alone — all mythicists must be tarred with the same brush.
I’ve posted twice before on Holland’s controversial view that Islam as we recognize it arose after the Arab conquests. Holland does not deny the historicity of Muhammad (though the evidence he cites seems flimsy to me) or that there was a form of “Islam” founded by the Prophet before the Arab conquests. It was only after the Arabs found that the empires of Rome and Persia had fallen so easily into their grasp (having been savagely ravaged by bubonic plague and war) that divine explanations were called for.
The conquered peoples, in particular the massive influx of slaves, fed their own beliefs and interpretations into the “hadiths”, sayings attributed to the Prophet, and — not without Caliphate dictates — forged what has become the Islam we recognize today. The Caliph most responsible, Islam’s equivalent of Saint Paul and Constantine combined according to Holland, was Abdul Malik (see Islam, the Untold Story).
How was Brodie’s method of arguing that the Gospel narrative of Jesus is indebted to the OT narrative of Elijah and Elisha received by his scholarly peers before he published his conviction that there never was an historical Jesus? Was it laughed out of the academy as an unfortunate attack of “parallelomania” (as McGrath would seem to think it should be now that he classifies Brodie as an intellectual leper for denying the historical existence of Jesus)?
Thomas Brodie argues that the Old Testament double narrative of Elijah and Elisha lies behind the narratives of Jesus in the synoptic gospels. My previous post included references to this in extracts from reviews of The Birthing the New Testament. Brodie had earlier published a smaller volume outlining this particular case, The Crucial Bridge, and this post shares some details of scholarly reviews of that volume.
Backed by the works of scholar like Tomas L. Brodie, Turton advances the argument that the author of Mark modeled the events surrounding Jesus on the Elija-Elisha cycle and other Old Testament characters and prophecies. Though he performs a literary analysis on the gospel, Turton’s main objective is using the analysis to help in arriving at a judgement on the historicity of the events and characters in the Markan narrative.
Turton recognized the implications of Brodie’s analysis and did not shy away expressing it.
What needs to be understood is that The Crucial Bridge is only secondarily, even incidentally, an argument that the Gospels of Luke and Mark in particular were influenced by the Elijah-Elisha narrative. It is confined to the concluding 20-page chapter. The main argument (80 pages) examines the literary structure of the Elijah-Elisha section and its relationships with the Primary History (Genesis to 2 Kings).
Moreover, Brodie’s final chapter arguing for a link between the Gospels and the Elijah-Elisha section is actually introduced as an attempt
to corroborate [Raymond] Brown’s proposal …that the Gospels were partly modeled on the prophetic biographies, particularly the account of Elisha and his miracles … in particular to make it more precise: the foundational model for the development of the Gospels was not just the account of Elisha’s miracles. It was the entire Elijah-Elisha narrative. (p. 80)
This proposal by Raymond Brown was published in Perspectives 12 (1971) 98-99 as “Jesus and Elisha”. Brodie notes that other scholars have since agreed with this basic idea:
Charles Talbert, What Is a Gospel?
Martin Hengel, Acts and the History of Earliest Christianity (1980), 30-32
David Barr and Judith Wentling, “The Conventions of Classical Biography and the Genre of Luke-Acts: A Preliminary Study,” paper presented at SBL/CBA regional meeting, 1980
Yarbro Collins, The Beginning of the Gospel, 27-36
I was sitting with Everard Johnston, Lecturer in scriptures and dogma, at his house in Picton Street, Port of Spain, discussing the manuscript. By then his young wife, June, had gone to bed, and amid the sounds of the tropical night we sipped rum and coke as I tried to explain the basic idea of rewriting.
I handed him page 128 on connections between 1 Corinthians and the Old Testament.
He took his time perusing it, then he put it down, muttering, ‘In the same order . . . the same order apart from minor modifications’.
We turned to the gospels, discussing the extent to which they too are a product of the rewriting. Suddenly he said, ‘So we’re back to Bultmann. We know nothing about Jesus.’
I paused a moment.
‘It’s worse than that’.
There was a silence.
Then he said, ‘He never existed’.
There was another silence, a long one, and then he nodded gently, ‘It makes sense’.
Brodie does not make an explicit connection in any of his earlier publications on the relationship between the literary origins of the New Testament writings and the question of the historicity of Jesus. Most of his earlier books explored the literary structures of the Gospels and some of the epistles. Brodie was especially struck by the way the Gospel authors not only seemed to borrow so heavily from the Old Testament but also appeared to be re-writing of so much of those Jewish scriptures. In 1980 an exchange with Joseph Fitzmyer led Brodie to broaden his scope by investigating the wider literary practices of the early Christian era and to see if such borrowing and re-writing was a known feature of the literary customs of the day. (Didn’t someone recently write a review claiming that Brodie never listened to advice?) Continue reading “Brodie’s Argument that Jesus Never Existed”
With a beautiful irony McGrath opens with an astonishingly cavalier disregard for the facts and details that both Richard Carrier and I have ever written about scholars such as Thompson and Noll with respect to mythicism:
Combine this with Brodie’s defection to mythicism, alongside Thompson’s, and (like Thompson’s) the publicly professed “historicity agnosticism” of Arthur Droge, professor of early Christianity at UCSD, and Kurt Noll, associate professor of religion at Brandon University, and Ehrman’s argument that only amateurs and outsiders take the Jesus Myth theory seriously is now in the dust. There is still, certainly, a litany of crank and amateur mythicist nonsense. But there is also a serious case to be made, by serious and well-qualified scholars. And they need to be paid attention to, not dismissed and mistreated, their arguments straw manned or ignored.
So McGrath is once again careless with the facts and details. That is not a claim that Thompson and Noll “embrace mythicism”. They do not. Carrier clearly states Droge and Noll are “historicity agnostics”! The point is just as damaging to McGrath’s case, however. They are not viscerally hostile towards the Christ Myth possibility as is McGrath. They acknowledge its plausibility. McGrath can never accept even that much. Never.
I don’t know if Carrier has ever said Thompson “embraces” mythicism. I certainly have never said any such thing. I have always been quite clear about Thompson’s own case. Thompson addresses the nature of the evidence that we rely upon for Jesus and argues for its stereotypical nature. The same type of literature is found elsewhere applied to both historical and mythical figures. Thompson is, as he writes in the very article McGrath hand-waves readers to study (does McGrath ever stop to take note of the detailed contents in any of the citations he hand-waves people to look at?), pointing out that the prevailing assumption of the historicity of Jesus is problematic given the nature of the evidence we have:
I wrote my monograph of 2005 in an effort to explore the continuity of a limited number of themes which were rooted in ancient Near Eastern royal ideology—an issue which is not only marginally related to questions of historicity, but one which also has much to say about the perception of history and historical method among modern scholars. . . . It is a small book, and its ambitions are few: hardly more than to point out that our warrant for assuming the existence of a historical Jesus has important limits.
Yes, his argument has the potential to open up the question of mythicism. But Thompson himself is not addressing mythicism per se. I know his argument reasonably well, I hope, because I believe my own arguments are very strongly influenced by Thompson’s. That’s why I have generally avoided the label “mythicist” for myself.
McGrath’s hyper-sensitivity in this area does not seem to benefit him with any capability of understanding such subtleties.
Er, no, I meant he tried to publish with the wrong companies
In my initial response to James McGrath’s review of Thomas L. Brodie’s Memoir, I zeroed in on a single remark by McGrath that grotesquely misrepresented what Brodie himself explicitly wrote. I explained why I was not writing a comprehensive response at that time and why I chose to single out that one point for attention.
McGrath was trying to establish a point that the reason Brodie’s thesis was not published had to do with unscholarly methods and not its conclusion that Jesus was not an historical person. He needs this to be true to argue a case that the only reason mythicism is rejected is that it is not based on sound scholarship. Hence he stressed:
Brodie indicates that he had this conviction even before he had learned to do scholarship, and that his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes . . . (see the complete sentence below)
But although his idea was concocted prior to his learning how to do scholarship . . .
I recommend that this book be widely read. It illustrates the bankruptcy of Jesus mythicism, and the fact that it has the potential to ruin careers, not because there is ingrained antipathy to it in the academy, but because the case for it is based on thoroughly unpersuasive arguments, and the complete disregard for other possibilities, . . .
The book can serve as a warning to young scholars to be open to criticism and feedback (and to more established scholars to provide honest and clear feedback, since I found myself wondering whether anyone actually told Brodie that he was using dubious methods and criteria to produce dubious results).
Specifically, the words of McGrath I was exposing as a blatantly false portrayal of what Brodie himself explained about the reason his manuscript was not published were these:
Brodie indicates that . . . his inability to find a publisher very early on was a result of things like poor grammar, lack of footnotes, refusal to accept criticisms of and feedback on his claims and interpretations, and attempting to find a Christian publisher for what he wrote on the subject (pp.32,35,40,42).
Updated about 20 minutes after original post -- detail added to the "So why I did not find. . ." paragraph.
The only detail so far unexplained in the deactivation of the Vridar.wordpress blog is why I apparently did not receive a warning notice from WordPress itself.
The times below are in Australian Central Standard Time, my local time. (Some images may be over-size for iPad viewing but to reduce them further would make them difficult to read.)
2:26 AM, Tuesday June 28th, WordPress/Automattic email me notice of their takedown of my post about Joel’s nonsense.
But being 2:26 AM I am, as usual for that time, asleep.
Around 3 AM I wake up (as I do from time to time) and check my iphone for current news and recent blog activity.
If I looked at my Gmail at that time (I don’t recall if I did, but if I did then I would have ignored anything that did not look interesting — I would have ignored anything from “WordPress” since it’s usually some notice of a new product, new theme, — I’m not interested) the subject header would have meant nothing to me (what’s “DMCA”?, looks technical, some outage time?) and I would have ignored it.
The only thing I know for certain is that I did not take any notice of my email at that hour.
But I did see something odd: my post on Joel’s history/science nonsense is in ‘private’ status. Maybe Tim is doing something with it. I decide to check with him later and go back to sleep.
Once awake I check the post in “private” status, see nothing wrong with it, so restore it to “public” status.
There is no doubt that Joel Watts attached a CC (Creative Commons) Licence notice to the blog post of his that I copied and reused.
So what IS a CC licence?
The whole idea behind a CC licence (we might even call it the CC philosophy) is to foster a win-win situation in the world of ideas. That is, the person who creates the new work will not lose anything if someone else, who likes that work enough to want to re-use it, picks it up and does re-use it to create something new.
So, for example, if I post a new literary work, all sweated from my own furrowed imagination, like,
I feel so egg-ceptionally, god-blessed smart today that I think you have egg all over your godless dumb face
and you think, Wow!, I like that! — then the CC licence is just for you! But it’s also for me who was inspired to write the original!
It’s for me, since I only need check of the tick-boxes in the CC form to tell the world what I want and don’t want others doing with my inspired words — e.g. do I allow you to make $$$$ from my words? do I allow you to re-use without telling the world I was the original creator of those words?
And it’s for you — you can re-use my words any way you would like within the constraints of the check-boxes I ticked.
So if you take my words and create something that argues against their original intent, and even proves they are shite, no worries! If you have also created your post under a CC then I can take that, re-use it, and argue the exact opposite!
Greg Jenks — a Jesus Seminar Fellow who brought John Shelby Spong to the little city of Toowoomba where I once lived and worked (and met Spong) — has posted the following on Facebook: (I think it’s a form notice, but no matter. . . .)
Burma may turn into the next Rwanda unless we raise our voices and stop the racist attacks right now — will you join me?
To blame the killing on “religion” is simplistic and hides a far deeper and more complex problem. There are ethnic differences; local jobs are thought to be at stake; cultural differences are sharp and offensive to some; there is a new nationalist sentiment beginning to blossom in Burma; religious difference is easily identified for hostile targeting and becomes the scapegoat. Continue reading “Can we help Burma? Another Rwanda Looming?”
First, let me explain to the Windows users out there how the Macintosh Menu Bar and Dock behave. In Microsoft Windows, each application has its own menu bar. That is, each window usually has its own bar that contains the standard menu items: File, Edit, View . . . Help. Nonstandard apps like Chrome may break that convention. Each software vendor has the ability to change these user interface characteristics. It’s a free-for-all. Or perhaps a “mess” is a better description.
It isn’t like that on the Mac. The menu bar “belongs” to the operating system. So when each application (e.g., Firefox, Finder, Microsoft Word, etc.) comes to the foreground, its “File-Edit-etc.” menu is anchored to the same place. Apple touts this behavior as a convention that enhances ease of use.
The Dock on the Macintosh is similar to the Windows Taskbar, but with key differences — one of which is the way minimized windows zoom down to the Dock. They remain in a minimized state, visible as a small icon. As with the Windows Taskbar, you can move the Dock to either the side of the desktop, but I think most users keep it on the bottom of the screen.
One feature the latest versions of Windows and OS X have in common is the ability to synchronize time with a trusted network host. In the old days, we used to synchronize our servers with “tick” and “tock”: two Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers run by the U.S. Navy. But nowadays, most people in America either use the NTP servers run by NIST or the vendor-operated NTP servers like time.windows.com or time.apple.com.
And that brings us back to the question of time. As you can see from the screenshot of my Macintosh (see Screenshot 1), which shows the Date & Time Preference Panel, I’m letting Apple’s time server act as the trusted date and time reference for my system. You can see that the main application running in the foreground is System Preferences. If I minimize the Date & Time window, it’ll get sucked down into the Dock.
The System Preferences application is still considered to be “in the foreground.” (Incidentally, that’s why we still see the words “System Preferences” next to the Apple icon in Joel’s desktop screen capture.) However, the Date & Time panel is tucked away until I need it again.
In Screenshot 2, you can see that the minimized icon for the Date & Time Preference Panel is actually a snapshot of exactly what it looked like before I minimized it. And you can tell that it belongs to the System Preferences application, because of the tiny “gears” image pasted in the icon’s lower right-hand corner.
So now that we have all that background knowledge out of the way, let’s take a look at the new evidence that Samphire has just now brought to light.
Watts up, Dock?
I went to Watt’s own full screenshot displayed on his webpage and found that down at the bottom right of his screenshot the minimised icon of the Date & Time icon could be seen (it’s pretty distinctive even when minimised) sitting on the Dock.
Let’s take a closer look for ourselves. Here’s Joel’s desktop image again — cropped and enlarged:
This is my response to James McGrath’s post, Mythicist Language is Designed to Make Lies Sound Truthful. Is McGrath really saying that a mythicist argument by Brodie is actually a set of “lies”? If so, that underscores the very point I have been making about how censorship works in academia — and McGrath is himself one of the most stalwart of guardians of “correct thoughts” in the arena of New Testament studies.
James McGrath continues to refer to even the most dry, factual posts and writings that lean towards favoring the Christ myth thesis as “rants” and “lies” — presumably solely on the grounds that any writing that leans to such a conclusion must by definition be a “rant” or a “lie”.
And THAT is exactly why it is an Orwellian joke that such a person should be considered as qualified to speak about censorship and academic freedom in the context of the Christ myth. THAT is how censorship in academia works. It is through this sort of institutional intellectual bullying — denigrating anyone who advances certain types of alternative views as peddlers of “rants” or “lies” — that we see censorship working in all sorts of areas. There is no need for a “conspiracy” — and of course McGrath likes to intimate in his same post that mythicists are “conspiracy peddlers”, too — which is a real rant and lie. Academia is not immune from this sort of subtle systemic censorship, and never has been, as Julien Benda pointed out so dramatically in another context with “The Treason of the Intellectuals”. What was true of France in his day has been just as true of the English speaking intelligentsia up to our own day. And if it is so blatant in the political arena, we should not be surprised if it is alive in the world of public religious convictions, too. Politics and religion, the most ideological of our academic “disciplines”.
The same old
Of course McGrath will protest that he has engaged with and rebutted mythicist arguments many, many times. He will wave his hand and invite readers to look at all those posts and comments he has made in the past.
I have to thank Manoj Joseph for pointing out some date/time oddities in Joel’s testimony concerning exactly when he emailed Neil about the DMCA takedown. With all the work I had to do to bring Vridar back to life, I barely had time to skim a handful of the relevant posts around the web.
But now with the passage of couple of relatively peaceful days, I think it’s time to reflect on what happened. In particular, we should look more carefully at those screenshots that Joel so graciously provided. I just checked his site, and they’re still there, but just in case he catches on to his mistake, you will still be able to find them in various web caches.
Watts the story?
Joel says he warned Neil on the 26th. Explaining his actions, he begins by showing a screen capture of a comment by Neil. He writes: “I then sent an email to him, shortly there after [sic] . . . Note the time difference. I know he’s in Australia.”
That’s a curious little side note from Mr. Watts. The WordPress administrator tool in the screen capture shows a local time (EDT) of 12:43 AM. WordPress doesn’t show you the local time of the sender; that would be insane. No, this is Joel’s local time: Eastern Daylight Saving Time.
So what’s this business about a “time difference“? Joel wants to prepare us for a little con job that he’s about to foist on us. It reminds me of short-change artists who confuse you with their nonsensical patter just before they coax you to give them an extra 20-dollar bill.
Nothin’ up my sleeve
Next, Joel kindly shows us an image capture of his desktop. Looking at his Sent Items folder, we’re led to believe that he sent an email to Neil at 12:56 PM on the 26th. So, Neil posted shortly after midnight (EDT) on the 26th. Joel allegedly sent his mail “shortly there after [sic]” — I guess 12 hours is a “short time” in Joel’s mind. No matter. It is, after all, the same calendar day.
But hang on. Compare the wall clock time on Joel’s Macintosh to the time on the email. Remember: These are all local times of the sender. Outlook doesn’t show the local time of the recipient; that would be crazy.
On a related matter: Joel Watts has been writing quite a lot to portray WordPress.com through Automattic as diligently investigating the merit of his claim before posting a DMCA takedown notice. See Ugh – Once Again the DMCA and his various comments on James McGrath’s post, Vridar No Longer Available.
Well, if one reads the statement by Automattic that Joel has kindly posted for our benefit one can see that Automattic explained to Joel exactly what they checked. Read that second last one-sentence paragraph:
That’s it. They explained to Joel that they had received his DMCA takedown notice and reviewed it for completeness.
It was the same when I submitted my counterclaim. I had to check off a whole lot of boxes confirming I had included everything in my statement that they required. They did not check my or Joel’s blog sites to see if my statement was true.
That is, Automattic at this stage does not investigate and confirm the validity of the claims. That is a later process and the responsibility of a court. Automattic’s job is to be sure that each party submits its sworn statements according to due process.
One reader has posted a classic cartoon of the recent events as explained by a certain M. Joel Watts, MA. . . . For full details of the particular post by M. Watts that this cartoon depicts, as well as the original source photographs on which it is based (they are also classics!) you must visit the original post by pithom on his blog. It includes a little webliography of recent related posts, too.
The original Vridar site has now been restored by WordPress.com minus one controversial post. I have disabled comments on that legacy site, though, since Vridar.org (the site y0u are reading now) will be the active one from now on.
The Vridar blog was deactivated by its hosting company, WordPress.com, in response to my reactivation of a post that I did not realize had been taken down as a result of a reader’s complaint.
I have since issued a counter-claim and WordPress.com has responded by contacting me to say they have reinstated the original blog minus the post in dispute. That post will remain inactive pending a further response from the claimant within 14 days.
We have Tim to thank for getting up this new site for Vridar so quickly.